Envision a school where people are at home, a place where kids and teachers have a deep sense of
belonging. Now think of great examples in the real world…they are not common, are they? And they don’t happen by accident.
At the heart of these schools are strategic relationships and structures that make it happen, like advisory and mentorship and multiage. In most project-based learning schools, advisory is a key component of helping students have a “learning home.” While working closely with a small group of peers and a caring adult, learners experience teamwork and friendship. They build partnerships and problem-solving skills. They move forward on their academic learning plans and life goals, and build important leadership skills.
There’s flexibility in how schools set up advisory programs, but generally they involve daily very frequent meetings between a group of students and an advisor who functions as mentor, with young people receiving personalized learning and social support from both their advisor and fellow students.
The value of advisories in general is well documented. Across our Project Foundry School Network, certain advisory programs stand out for their unusual success in creating learners with deep agency and a growing sense of ownership over their learning as they mature through middle school and high school. They share a common structure of being multiage, which is, grouping students across multiple ages and grade levels. There is social magic afoot here: modeling. Older students take on leadership and mentoring roles, providing direction and support to the younger members. Younger students have a window into their possible futures and an ear into structured conversations (quietly guided by their smart and listening advisor) that nudge them forward in social and academic growth. Younger students tend to draw the best out of the older students, much like in a family, remembering what it was like, and seeing themselves in the less experienced learner. Then, when the older students graduate, the younger are ready and eager fill those leadership roles for the newest advisory members.
Modeling has a similar effect of academic growth. Younger students have the chance to see more complex, challenging work unfold and imagine themselves inquiring into similar problems or adding to the solutions already created. Or, they build courage to try something entirely new but as challenging or even more so. The younger students actually get an inside look at what it means to be college and work ready – and what it took to get there.
The value of working together
Being in the same multiage advisory group for four or more years nurtures students into a sense of family. They come to support each other’s learning through both the challenges and successes. Students tend not to see each other as competitors, but rather teammates who cooperate and learn how to work in tandem with others—an incredibly valuable real-world skill.
For advisors, the multiage advisory allows them to spend several years with the same students, giving them the ability to truly understand each student’s needs and strengths and provide the personalized support each student needs. Advisors do not have to spend time and energy getting to know 15-30 new students each year and spending the first 4-8 weeks building a new community of learners. The multiage advisory community and relationships persist over time, simply welcoming new members into it each year, and often building relationships that last beyond the classroom and school, into college, work, and life.